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TikTok May Face Ban in the US, Withdraws from Hong Kong

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The past few weeks have been tough for TikTok, the international arm of Chinese video-sharing platform Douyin that enjoys huge popularity amongst teenagers. The app has been caught in several geopolitical crossfires lately.

The US is “looking at” barring the app, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo claimed in a Fox News interview on Monday. “Whether it was the problems of having Huawei technology in your infrastructure we’ve gone all over the world and we’re making real progress getting that out. We declared ZTE a danger to American national security,” he added, highlighting two other Chinese tech companies.

“With respect to Chinese apps on peoples’ cellphones, the United States will get this one right too.”

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ByteDance: How the TikTok Creator Took Over the Internet and Incited International Controversy

While it is uncertain how the ban will eventually play out, the news was later confirmed by President Donald Trump on Gray Television. “It’s something we are looking at, yes. It’s a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful,” said Trump.

In response, a TikTok spokesperson stated that, “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US. We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

On the same day, TikTok also announced that it will exit the Hong Kong market, as other social media companies have temporarily stopped responding to government requests for user data under the new National Security Law. Despite this stance, some — such as Jane Li for Quartz — have argued the move should not be seen as “a stand against Beijing’s internet censorship.”

The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice are recently scrutinizing TikTok over its privacy practices, according to advocate groups.

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Is TikTok Violating Child Privacy Laws?

Distrust in Chinese companies is not only escalating in the US. Tensions between India and China in the Himalayas have led the Indian government to ban TikTok alongside 58 other Chinese smartphone apps, including WeChat. Reports suggest that TikTok’s parent company Bytedance may lose up to 6 billion USD should the app’s operations in India — where it has employed more than 2,000 people — be terminated.

TikTok has attempted to distance itself from Chinese ties, along with other Chinese technology firms. It has hired Kevin Mayer, the former Walt Disney executive, as its CEO, while reaffirming that it does not store user data in China or comply with Chinese censorship requests. TikTok’s China version is operated under a separate entity, Douyin, whose content is not shared with the international platform.

For more on ByteDance’s astonishing growth — and the problems of its flagship international app — head here.

Tianyu Fang
Tianyu M. Fang is a writer and journalist covering Chinese culture, politics, and technology. You can find him on Twitter: @tianyuf.